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Education at a Glance 2011: Highlights
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branch 5. Special section: introducing pisa
  branch How does an immigrant background affect performance?
  • Students with an immigrant background tend to be socio-economically disadvantaged, and face considerable challenges in education performance.
  • Even after adjusting for socio-economic background, students with an immigrant background score an average of 27 points below their peers.
  • In many countries, first-generation immigrant students are at a significantly greater risk of being poor performers. Across OECD countries, they are around twice as likely to perform among the bottom quarter of students.

Significance

This spread examines the performance differences related to immigrant status. In general, students with an immigrant background are socio-economically disadvantaged, and this accounts for part of the performance disadvantage among these students. They face considerable challenges in reading and other aspects of education. In general, they continue to show lower levels of performance even after their socio-economic background is taken into account. However, the differences in performance vary greatly, and in some countries, students from an immigrant background perform just as well as their non-immigrant peers.

Findings

Students who do not have an immigrant background tend to outperform students with an immigrant background in most countries. The exceptions are Australia for both first- and second-generation students, and Israel and Hungary, where second-generation students outperform students who do not have an immigrant background. On average across OECD countries, students from an immigrant background scored 44 points below their non-immigrant peers in reading. However, the size of the performance gap among students varies markedly across countries.

In many OECD countries, first-generation immigrant students are at a significantly greater risk of being poor performers. They lag an average of 52 score points behind students without an immigrant background, a difference greater than the equivalent of one school year's progress. In Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden, first-generation immigrant students are at least twice as likely to perform among the bottom quarter of students compared to those who do not have an immigrant background (see Table A5.2 in Education at a Glance 2011).

Students with an immigrant background tend to be socio-economically disadvantaged, contributing in part to the performance disadvantage among these students. On average across OECD countries, students with an immigrant background tend to have a socio-economic background that is 0.4 of a standard deviation lower than that of their non-immigrant peers.

After taking into consideration the effect of socio-economic background on reading performance, differences between students with and without an immigrant background are reduced but a performance gap still persists. In Luxembourg, for example, accounting for the socio-economic status of students reduces the performance disadvantage of students with an immigrant background from 52 to 19 score points. Across OECD countries, the gap is reduced on average from 44 to 27 score points, but the difference nonetheless amounts to nearly half a proficiency level in reading (see Table A5.2 in Education at a Glance 2011). That a substantial gap remains indicates that students from immigrant backgrounds may have difficulties at school that can be directly attributed to their immigrant status.

Definitions

In PISA 2009, one school year's progress corresponds to an average of 39 score points on the PISA reading scale. This was determined by calculating the difference in scores among the sizeable number of 15-year-olds in 32 OECD countries who were enrolled in at least two different grade levels.

PISA distinguishes between three types of student immigrant status: i) students without an immigrant background, also referred to as native students, are students who were born in the country where they were assessed by PISA or who had at least one parent born in the country; ii) second-generation students are students who were born in the country of assessment but whose parents are foreign-born; and iii) first-generation students are foreign-born students whose parents are also foreign-born. Students with an immigrant background thus include students who are first or second-generation immigrants.

Information on data for Israel: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/888932315602.

Going further

For additional material, notes and a full explanation of sourcing and methodologies, see Education at a Glance 2011 (Indicator A5).

Areas covered include:

  • Immigrant background and reading performance.
  • Reading performance after accounting for socio-economic background.
 
Indicator in PDF Acrobat PDF page

Figures
S.6 Reading performance, by immigrant status, 2009
Reading performance, by immigrant status, 2009
S.7 Reading performance after accounting for socio-economic background, by immigrant status, 2009
Reading performance after accounting for socio-economic background, by immigrant status, 2009